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Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2010 Mar;88(3):204-19. doi: 10.1139/Y09-135.

Mechanisms associated with mitochondrial-generated reactive oxygen species in cancer.

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Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8N 3Z5, Canada.


The mitochondria are unique cellular organelles that contain their own genome and, in conjunction with the nucleus, are able to transcribe and translate genes encoding components of the electron transport chain (ETC). To do so, the mitochondria must communicate with the nucleus via the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which are produced as a byproduct of aerobic respiration within the mitochondria. Mitochondrial signaling is proposed to be altered in cancer cells, where the mitochondria are frequently found to harbor mutations within their genome and display altered functional characteristics leading to increased glycolysis. As signaling molecules, ROS oxidize and inhibit MAPK phosphatases resulting in enhanced proliferation and survival, an effect particularly advantageous to cancer cells. In terms of transcriptional regulation, ROS affect the phosphorylation, activation, oxidation, and DNA binding of transcription factors such as AP-1, NF-kappaB, p53, and HIF-1alpha, leading to changes in target gene expression. Increased ROS production by defective cancer cell mitochondria also results in the upregulation of the transcription factor Ets-1, a factor that has been increasingly associated with aggressive cancers.

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